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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

We Need Ballistic Helmets on Patrol

More and more officers are being killed with head shot and this vulnerability needs to be addressed.

August 22, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Mark W. Clark.
Photo: Mark W. Clark.

When it comes to the topic of officer safety, two personal pet peeves of mine have been and will continue to be the following:

  • The dangerous deployments of spike strips. For our profession's latest tragedy—occurring just last week.
  • The lack of ballistic gear for patrol officers.

On the subject of ballistic gear, I received an email recently from Stanley Cohen, a former Cincinnati police officer who is also a retired IUP Criminal Law Professor and an attorney. Stanley has made it his mission to get ballistic helmets for as many patrol officers as he can such as when he successfully lobbied earlier this year for the New Kensington (Pa.) Police Department to purchase several bullet resistant helmets with ballistic shields.

With his permission, I have heavily cribbed from our correspondence the following concerns he raised in the aftermath of the assassination of San Diego Police Officer Jeremy Henwood less than two weeks ago. Stanley opened with this:

Dean:

Could you please help me by answering the questions below:

Officer Henwood of the San Diego Police Department was shot in the head and killed in his cruiser yesterday at about 5:30 p.m. He was not wearing a ballistic face shield/helmet, which would likely have saved his life.

The shooter was in an Audi that was involved in a shooting in El Cajon about 15 or 20 miles away around 5:22 p.m. El Cajon is in the San Diego County and connected to the city by major highways. An "all points" broadcast of the shooting and the suspect was put out shortly thereafter.

The suspect was seen driving south on I-5 toward San Diego. This was presumably broadcast on the radio to all police officers, including Henwood's cruiser.

Questions:

1. Is it likely that Henwood heard the "all points" broadcast on his cruiser's radio?

2. If he did hear it, would he have been justified in placing a ballistic face shield/helmet on in case he confronted the shooter? An officer should prepare to deal with and take measures to protect his life from a highly possible threat or danger.

3. In retrospect, should Henwood have placed a ballistic face shield/helmet on his head while sitting in his cruiser, assuming that it would have saved his life?

Thanks for any help. The information can be used in developing policy in the future for when a ballistic face shield should be worn.

I offered Stanley my own intuitions, which were largely in accord with his suspicions, then received the following reply from him:

The majority of officers I consulted feel that Henwood probably had heard the broadcast. Assuming he had heard it and assuming he knew his location and the location of the shooting in El Cajon 15 or so miles away and that his location and El Cajon were connected by major interstate highways with high speed limits, had he thought about how fast the shooter could be at his location? Had he considered that if he put the face shield and helmet on just in case the shooter came by his location? Had he considered that if he was wrong and the shooter did not show up at his location, there would be nothing lost on his part (the most he would have had the face shield on in the cruiser would be one half hour)? Had he considered that if he was right and the shooter was at his location within one half hour after the shooting in El Cajon and that he would engage the shooter in a firefight and that, without a face shield and helmet on in place and in the ready position, he could be shot in the head and never see his children or wife and they would never see him and grow up without his love?

I would like to believe that he would have chosen the course of having it on and be wrong and have worn it for nothing. But of course, we now know that he would have been right and when the shooter fired into Henwood's cruiser, his face shield and helmet would have stopped the bullets and he would have been able to return fire and that he would have survived and gone home to his wife and children.

I hope you are able to write about and promote the idea that police and police administrators should immediately buy and equip their officers with the face shield and equipment before the dead officers from head shots increase beyond the current 891 good cops. Twenty-six have been killed by head shots in 2011 and at the current rate the total number should increase. Lives could be saved if officers everywhere have a face shield and helmet in the cruiser and sound policy for when to put it on.

I want to be clear about this: Stanley is not criticizing Officer Henwood one iota. He is merely trying to encourage our profession to do all it can to avail its heroes whatever equipment it can to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future. Would Officer Henwood have donned a ballistic helmet had he known the suspect was last seen in his direction? I don't know. But I do know that he should at least have been afforded the chance to have used one.

This is not the first time that Stanley and I have corresponded on ballistic helmets, as we have shared our opinions with one another since at least 2007. The difference between us is that Stanley has actually done a lot more constructive work to actually getting something done about the matter. And I have zero doubt that more than one cop will be extremely thankful for his efforts and the in-roads he has made.

As noted in my August 2011 feature on mitigating threats ("Line-of-Duty Deaths: Managing Risk"), the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has recently acquired ballistic helmets for its patrol personnel. While there are still a lot of shit-stupid practices within my alma mater, LASD has a deserved reputation for emphasizing officer safety and equipping its personnel accordingly (I hear that it has even replaced all of its antiquated shotguns).

I hope other agencies will follow the examples of New Kensington and Los Angeles County in procuring ballistic helmets for their personnel. Certainly, they could do worse things with their money.

Like purchasing spike strips.

Tags: Officer Safety, Helmets, Body Armor, San Diego PD


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Leek @ 8/22/2011 5:28 PM

The San Diego Police department does issue level III ballistic helmets and face shields to all of its officers. But given this is a major metropolitan area, are we suggesting that officers should don helmets every time there is a shooting? Shootings happen at least daily in our county and a fair number of offenders carry firearms.

Most (all) officers don't wear their helmets on non-SWAT entires. Why do we think they would wear them on regular patrol. They are heavy, cumbersome, and are an outward sign of militarization (for better or worse). Not to mention there is a stigma against wearing ballistic helmets for anything other than an active-shooter case.

Our gang unit pulls guns off the street on a nightly basis. Should they wear their helmets for a 10 hour shift?

The SDPD used to have a policy decades ago that all officers shall wear their (non-ballistic) helmets at all times in the field. That policy has long since gone the way of the dodo.

Is it time for officers to start wearing helmets again? Is violence against officers become so widespread that the use of ballistic helmets is becoming a sad necessity?

Tom @ 8/22/2011 8:38 PM

The helmet would be nice to have available but the officer should be the one to make up his mind to put it on or not to fit the situation.

Tom Ret LPD @ 8/22/2011 9:02 PM

LAPD probably did not have ar 15s prior to the infamous bank robbery
and shoot out because someone thought the public would think it would look too militaristic.

Kyle @ 8/23/2011 7:24 AM

I totally get the idea here but I just cant see it happening. My PD wont even go to any BDU style uniforms because they are "too militaristic" looking. Not to mention the cost of buying those helmets at $300-$400 each and the webbing and all that to go with them, pretty expensive. Do they expire like our vests do?? If so, your looking at that expense every five years. Also, how many dinosaurs are still around that dont like to wear their vests let alone a helmet on a hot day?? Dont get me wrong, I am 100% in favor of giving every single piece of potential lifesaving gear I can get my hands on for our people, I just dont see helmets catching on. We had an incident just like this San Diego case in Bexar County, Texas (San Antonio) where a deputy was killed at a red light.

MJ Turnbow @ 8/23/2011 1:37 PM

These helmets will stop HANDGUN only rounds and not all of them. They are designed primarily to stop shrapnel and protect the head from blunt trauma. Notice military spec. ops. units have new cut down versions that improve visibility and wearability. $300-$500 for those. Unless there is an imminent threat, I don't think officers will wear them for every "person with a gun" call. However, they should be available to every officer. Older versions can be obtained through DRMO as surplus military property at a greatly reduced cost.

swarmbo @ 8/28/2011 6:52 PM

I think it's a great idea to issue every patrol cop a ballistic helmet but it's impractical to expect him or her to wear it as part of their uniform. I obtained one of those helmets about 10 yrs ago and have carried it routinely in the front seat of my patrol car. There is no protocal in my agency for patrol cops to wear this equipment, only ESU(swat). In the 10 yrs I've had this lifesaving piece of equipment by my side I've worn it maybe 4-5 times,usually at confirmed shots fired or man with a gun calls. It was reasuring to know I had the helmet available,but I'd NEVER wear it on a routine basis. Just my opinion and sentiment, I hope it helps. Good Luck.

Stanley Cohen @ 10/27/2011 10:30 AM

Thank you Dean for your comments on ballistic face shields/helmets for police patrol officer first responders s I requested. I hope they inspire at least one police chief to obtain ballistic face shields for all his patrol officer first responders. Ideally, every patrol officer first responder in the U.S. should have them.

Every police officer is loved by either one or more immediate family members, fellow brother/sister police officers. While I am very concerned for the individual police patrol officers' lives, I also feel for the family members, especially the children of the officers, and their brother and sister police officers when they lose a police officer to a head shot that would probably have been deflected by a ballistic face shield. Before a police officer decides that he does not want to wear one, I urge him/her to consider the consider the feeling of family and brother/sister officers. it is too impossible to describe the the loss of the officer, but it is aboslutely impossible to describe to any degree the life long pain and suffering felt by family and fellow officers from the loss of their loved one. I urge all police officers to consider this before deciding they do not and will not wear ballistic face shields. The wife of one officer whose husband was murdered by a head shot was quoted as saying one of kids told her while crying, "Mommy I want to have Daddy back with me." The officer was Yaslowitz who was murdered January 1, 2011. I plea for family members and fellow officers who love a police officer for police officers to weigh their interests when making a decision. The family members and fellow officers
would greatly appreciate it and be most grateful to you. I would too.

vishal @ 1/17/2012 6:18 PM

I contacted the owners of dragonskin body armor in freson,CA. I asked if they are going to make a ballistic face helmet/face shield that would stop rounds from guns AND assault rifles(m-16,ak-47) using the same ceramic and titanium mesh they use for their body armor. He said not now, but in the near future yes..:-)

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